This past week most of the major denominations in our country had their yearly meetings or assemblies where they gathered together to be encouraged and vote on certain matters. In talking about some of these meetings this past week I was reminded that most denominations have certain acquired reputations over the years. Think of the early Methodist’s. John and Charles Wesley began what they called the ‘holy club’ and out of this grew a denomination characterized by rigorous methods for attaining holiness. Think of our Pentecostal brothers and sisters. One of the nicknames they’ve received over the years is the ‘holy-rollers’ due to their dedication to live godly lives before an ungodly world. And then think of congregations like ours steeped in historical Reformation theology. Over the years we’ve not been characterized by a pursuit of holiness, rather we’ve been characterized by inaction being called the ‘frozen chosen.’
This reveals something about us that we should just be honest about. We don’t really care about holiness do we? I mean, we love the gospel, we love the cross, we love the resurrection, and we love the grace of God. And this is right for us to love grace this deeply, God has saved us from so much hasn’t He? But why is it that we give so little attention to all that God has saved us to? Shouldn’t those most passionate about the gospel and God’s glory revealed in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ also be those most dedicated to the pursuit of godliness? Indeed we should.
Perhaps it’s because we don’t care about holiness. Perhaps it’s because we have no idea what a holy life really looks like and think holiness is a simple refrain of don’ts. ‘Don’t dance, don’t smoke, don’t chew, and don’t go with girls who do.’ Perhaps we fear being legalistic, or getting into a religion of rules and are frightened by words like effort, discipline, and work thinking they’ve got no place in a faith centered on grace and justification by faith alone. Well, whatever you’re opinion of holiness is I’ve found that most people have one thing in common – we know we’re not holy. The subject of holiness is of the deepest importance for every Christian. I am aware that I could have chosen a subject more agreeable this summer, and I know for a fact I could have chosen a subject easier to handle than holiness, but I’ve chosen such a topic this summer because I aim to make you aware that few things are as profitable to the eternal well-being of our souls than the subject of holiness. Holy is what God is, and holy is what God’s people are saved to be. We began last week laying the foundation for this series in Isaiah 6 looking at ‘Our Holy God.’ Today we continue in 1 Peter 1:13-16 looking at ‘His Holy People.’
As we enter 1 Peter 1:13-16 we find Peter concluding a section about how we’re to live in present while we’re waiting for the future return of Christ. After beginning his letter Peter says in 1:3-5, “According to (God’s) great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” It is this living faith of ours, though tested and tried, that will bring glory and praise and honor to God at the revelation of Jesus Christ. It is this living hope in being resurrected from the grave of sin that fills us with joy inexpressible and full of glory, as we await His return when we will obtain the outcome of our faith, the salvation of our souls. It is this salvation that was searched out, carefully inquired into, and proclaimed in the power of the Spirit by the prophets of old. And also, it is this redemption that Peter says the angels long to look into.
Recall, Peter wrote 1 Peter to a group of believers persecuted and abused by the society in which they lived. Rather than calling them to hide themselves away hunkering down until society at large accepts them Peter tells these Christians how they’re to live godly lives in an ungodly world.In v13-16, our passage for this morning, and by beginning with the word ‘therefore’ Peter draws his first major implication of how they’re to live lives in the present while they wait for Jesus to return.
In this passage we learn holiness is a response to future grace, holiness is a rejection of former sin, and holiness is a reflection of God’s fullness.
Holiness is a Response to Future Grace (v13)
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Notice that it’s the grace we’ll receive at ‘the revelation of Jesus Christ’ that moves us to do certain things here and now. v13 calls us to ‘prepare our minds for action’ and to be ‘sober-minded.’ Literally Peter says here to ‘gird up the loins of our minds’ or something like ‘roll up your mental sleeves.’For most of Biblical history men and women wore robes in daily life. Even the soldiers would wear robes with armor on top. As you can imagine when the common person ran around or when the soldier went into battle these robes would get in the way. So, they would literally pull them up above their knees and tie them or fasten them in place with a smaller belt to prepare them for agility and fast movement. Peter uses this image to call his readers to a certain kind of mental activity.Now it’s true that just thinking the right things cannot get you into heaven, but it’s also true that God has created us in such a manner that the route to the heart is through the mind. We cannot love deeply that which we do not know truly. Which means when God comes into view you cannot leave your mind behind, it must come with you and be prepared to be active and engaged. This is how Peter begins addressing his readers.
He then adds ‘set our hope fully on the grace to come.’ Hope once again comes into view. He earlier told us of the new birth to a living hope in our past conversion, and now he tells us that living hope is to be set upon grace yet to come in the future. This isn’t a pop psychological hope leading us to a kind of positive thinking or fanciful wishing (like I hope next year will be better than this year, or I hope my team will win it all this season), but a Christ-centered boast of what He has done in the past and what He will one day do in the future. Or to say it another way, we do not hope for the return of Christ (though we do). No, rather based on the return of Christ we’re to live lives of hope now.Or to say it yet another way, because we have a hopein God we should set our hopeon God.Which reveals an underlying principle at work here – what we ultimately hope in changes how we live day to day. If you live in a war zone you hope for peace. If you’re single you hope for a spouse. If you’re unable to have children you hope for kids. If you’re sick you hope for healing. All of these are good things but when we make good things our greatest hope those good things become functional saviors. And when they don’t deliver we’ll be crushed in our idolatrous ways.Peter is reminding us to do the hard work of using our minds to place our hope where it ought to be, in God, and specifically in His grace to come.
These phrases ‘prepare your mind for action’, ‘be sober minded’, and ‘set your hope fully on’ are not terms of inaction. They’re not passive phrases. They’re terms describing discipline, effort, and work in regard to spiritual living. Or to say it another way, these phrases are a call to work hard at becoming holy. But see the direction we work hard towards? We do not set our hope fully on our own discipline, effort, and work. No, we set our hope fully on God’s grace yet to be revealed. All of this indicates that knowledge of future grace to come will lead to living lives of holiness now. Do you see that? Knowing that God in His grace will one day come and make all things right when Jesus returns ought to lead us to prepare our minds for action and be sober minded today.
The grace in view here is both past tense and future tense. The verses leading up to this passage, particularly v1-7, make it plain that in Christ we have received grace; and v8-13 make it plain that we will one day receive more grace when Jesus returns. Grace behind us and grace before us, changes how to live right now. It’s just like a springtime flower. As the flower’s natural response is to open and blossom when it feels the suns warmth and light, so too, the Christian’s natural response is to live a holy life when it beholds and basks in the pure light of the Holy Christ.
Holiness is first and foremost a response to future grace.
Holiness is a Rejection of Former Sin (v14-15)
As Peter continues he says in v14-15, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct…” v14 and v15 say the same thing in different ways. v14 says it negatively “…do not be conformed to ignorant passions…” and v15 says it positively “…be holy in all your conduct…” When you combine the commands in v14 and v15 you have a clear picture of what the pursuit of holiness looks like. As God’s true children we’re called to be obedient children, who are also to be nonconformists. Not nonconformists in an Amish sense rejecting things like electricity and cars because the world uses them, but ethical nonconformists.Peter is saying if you’re a Christian, you’ve been saved and reborn by the power of the Holy Spirit who’s given us a new heart. This new heart produces new desires, new loves, and new aspirations that change the way we live daily life. Formerly we walked around in ignorance hating God and hating one another. Now, being saved, God expects us to walk differently. How so? Since we’re called to not conform to the ignorant and wicked passions of our former lives, we’re to be holy so we conform to what is truly good, true, and beautiful.
We’ve seen this in Old Testament Israel. They were set apart and made distinct by God from the surrounding nations to be holy. After God redeemed them He gave them His Law to reorder their lives to be different from how they lived before. Today Christ’s Church, full of converted men and women, is similarly set apart from sin and the surrounding world to be holy herself. Israel, though in the world, was to look different from her neighbors, and now the Church, though in the world, is to look different from the world. Our boat, if you will, is to be in the ocean but none of the ocean is to be in the boat, lest we sink. Peter is aware that Christians will still feel pulled and tempted to live in certain ways in line with our former lost lives and the sinful world around us, he doesn’t deny this. What he does deny is the Christian not resisting our former sinful lifestyle after conversion.v14 calls this ‘obedient.’ v15 calls this ‘holy.’ Therefore obedience and holiness means conforming to Christ rather than the world around us. This means holiness is not optional for the Church. Holiness is not just something for mature Christians, holiness is not just something for pastors and elders, holiness is for all Christians, in all times, in all places. Eph. 1:3-4 says this is why God predestined us, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.”
I know that each of you has at one time or another asked God this question, ‘God, what is Your will for my life?’ Listen to 1 Thessalonians 4:3, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” You can’t get clearer than that right? Sanctification is the ongoing work of God’s free grace in the believer to make us, move us, and mature us toward holiness. What is God’s will for you? His will is that you be holy. This isn’t something to pray about, as if we could sit back and ask God ‘God do you want me to be holy today?’ The answer is clear and simple – YES! Ecclesiastes 3 said it first and The Byrds said it second in 1965 that there’s a time fore everything under the sun, a time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant, a time to tear down, a time to kill, a time to heal, a time to laugh, and a time to weep. You ever notice it doesn’t say ‘a time to be holy?’ This is because there is never a time, not even a second, when the Christian is not to be holy. Out of all the things in our lives, holiness must be the Christian’s main pursuit. Why? Because it is who we are.
So we have a question to answer before us: what does a pursuit of holiness look like for you and me? J.C. Ryle in his book ‘Holiness’ (1877) gives us 10 markers of true holiness. I’ll walk through them quickly:
1) Holiness is being of one mind with God – this means we agree with God in His Word, hating what He hates, loving what He loves, measuring everything in this world by the standard of His Word.
2) Holiness is to fear God – not a slavish fear but a reverent fear, understanding that fearing God is the beginning of wisdom, and that through the fear of God men depart from sin.
3) Holiness is an endeavor to shun every sin and keep every commandment – meaning in all things we aim to obey God, which of course implies the opposite – in all things we aim to never disobey God.
4) Holiness is to be humble – slow to speak, quick to listen, not rash or hasty but gentle and confidently calm, counting others as more important than ourselves.
5) Holiness is to watch our life closely – not acting on every impulse, but weighing them carefully – rejecting some while embracing others.
6) Holiness is to be charitable – in all that we do in life Christians are to be merciful and gracious people who remember the golden rule, doing as we would have others do to us.
7) Holiness is to be pure – hating all things corrupt and impure, setting no vile thing before our eyes, the Christian seeks to flee immorality of all kinds recognizing it for what it is, sin.
8) Holiness is to be faithful – this is an awareness that in all things: work or play, public or private, at home or abroad, all of life is to be lived as to the Lord, seeking to do the best we can do in all we do.
9) Holiness is to be spiritually minded – endeavoring to place our minds entirely on things above not on things below. Believing our treasure is in heaven and not on earth, and thus making it a pattern in life to be much in the Word and much in prayer.
10) Holiness is striving to be like Jesus – meaning not only seeking to live life as He did and draw all of our strength from Him, but pressing forward to be conformed into His image.
So after hearing these ten things describing what a pursuit of holiness looks like let me ask you – are you holy? Do you know the holiness I’ve been speaking of? I am not asking if you attend church regularly, or if you’ve been baptized or have taken the Lord’s Supper. I am not asking you if you wear the name ‘Christian.’ I am not asking if you approve of holiness in others, or like to read books about the lives of holy people, or like to talk about holy things, or own many holy books yourself. I am not asking you want to be holy or hope to be holy some day in the future. I am asking something more – are you holy? Hebrews 12:14 says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Others will see the God in your life if your pursue holiness. You will see the God more clearly if you pursue holiness. More so, the world will see the character of God in our church collectively if we all are pursuing holiness individually.
Think of a lighthouse. They blow no horns and demand no applause, they just shine, and in their light others can see things for what they really are. Do you just seek to shine? Or do you demand applause for living holy?
Holiness is a Reflection of God’s Fullness (v16)
It is said that the moon, though appearing to be very bright, has no light of it’s own – it only reflects the sun. The same is true of us, in and of ourselves we have no holiness, we are mere reflectors of God’s pure light. Peter says this in our passage in v15 and v16. In v15 he said “…as He who called you is holy, you also be holy…” while v16 quotes Leviticus 11:44 where God says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” Leviticus is largely ignored today as out of date or too difficult to read. Yet it’s main point is that a holy God can only be approached by a holy people. Throughout Leviticus there are many descriptions of how God separated certain things from what was common and made them holy. This pertains to all that is involved in the worship of God, all those who come to worship God, and the God being worshiped! Peter reaches way back to Leviticus and pulls this forward to show us the command to be holy is rooted in Scripture. And not only so, he wants to show us that the foundation of our own holiness is rooted in God’s own holiness, which makes our holiness a reflection of God’s holiness.
This should come as no surprise to you…1 Peter 1:1-2 make it clear we have already been made holy. God has chosen us (v1), sanctified us in the Spirit (v2), and sprinkled us clean with Jesus’ blood (v2). This means the whole of what he will say in these chapters to come is not ‘be holy because you’re currently not’, but ‘be holy because you already are.’ Or, be who God has made you to be.God has redeemed us, we belong to God, and all that belongs to God becomes holy by association.
So yes in our holy living we must be distinct from the world. Do you see here that hope and holiness are tied together in this passage, leading to the thought that our deepest hope doesn’t come from our own efforts in holiness, but from Jesus Christ the Holy One, who has by His work already made us holy and blameless. May we, by such grace, be who God’s made us to be.